Books Every Georgian/Regency Author Should Read

I recently found out that the blog I’d posted this on (Popular Romance Project) has been wiped from the internet, causing a dead link on my website. So I’m reposting it here to preserve it.

One of the topics that comes up a lot among historical writers is what research books are essential. If you ask your top ten favorite authors, you’d probably end up with a pretty impressive research library (and I’d LOVE to see other authors tell us about their Must Have Books in the comments). Here are mine. I think these books are must reads for anyone wanting to create an authentic Georgian/Regency world, and I’m going to talk a little bit about why.

The Rise of the Egalitarian Family: Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England by Randolph Trumbach (1978; ISBN 0127012508; OOP, used ~$40).

When writing a love story, you need to understand the mores of the times. One of the many, many useful things that Trumbach does in this book is discuss the evolution of the love match as a social ideal in the Georgian period. It’s all bound up with the Enlightenment and the Hardwicke Marriage Act and the slow descent of the nobility’s dependence on land for their fortunes. By the Regency period, Trumbach maintains that the love match had ousted the arranged marriage entirely and was well on its way to trumping matches based on social advantage and monetary considerations. So if you want to have that tension between generations, this book is a great resource for understanding where everyone might be coming from in their viewpoint of what would be ideal.

This book is also the main source for basic information that we use in every book, such as the time periods for mourning, marriage settlements, consanguinity. And it features tons of information about basic domestic issues such as the role of wives in the family and the raising of children. Really, it’s just an all-round great book for getting a solid understanding of what was going on inside people’s everyday lives.

The Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa Hamlin (1989; ISBN 0824022491; OOP, used ~$200, use interlibrary loan).

This is just an all-round brilliant book. It contains a wealth of information about everything from the Season and courtship among the ton to basics about how people lived such as the clubs men frequented, the theatres, roles of servants, etc. I just don’t know any other book that provides the information this one contains. It’s essentially foundational.

20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher (1973; ISBN 0810900564: OOP, used ~$12).

I simply don’t know a better survey book for fashion. While I’m obsessed with clothing, I don’t think everyone else needs to be, nor do I think it’s a wise place to spend your time considering, “With a small bit of effort, he undid her gown and it fell to the floor” suffices to get you where you need to be. But I do think every writer needs to know enough not to make any glaring errors, and Boucher’s summaries and careful selection of images are perfect for providing that little bit of knowledge you need (and since it covers pretty much all of European history, you don’t need to buy a new book if you decide you’d rather write Victorian settings, or Medievals.

The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone (1983; ISBN 0061319791: OOP, used ~$1).

Stone not only delves into the basic makeup of the English family (and he mostly talks about the upper class, “Barons and up” as he labels them), but he has great charts that provide vital information regarding the average ages at which people in this class married, how many times they were married, under what circumstances they were likely–and unlikely–to remarry, etc. This book provides a sort of grounding for the history of your characters’ families and a general understanding of how the most basic building block of society evolved and functioned. I would also suggest his Road To Divorce to anyone who wants to write about characters with broken marriages.

The British Aristocracy by Mark Bence-Jones (1979; ISBN 0094617805; OOP, used ~$10).

I love this book! It’s extremely insightful about how the aristocracy think of themselves, what matters to them, and what the origins of those feelings are. Bence-Jones is an insider who lays it all out for us. I found the section on “The Concept of the Gentleman” extremely enlightening and also highly recommend it for the chapter on “The Aristocratic Character.”

The Art of cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1774; free on Google Books)

Though you might throw food in with the unimportant minutia, I think that’s a mistake. The devil of historic world building really is in the details, and nothing throws a well-informed reader like potatoes in a Medieval setting or iced tea in a Regency (or indeed in any book set in England, including a contemporary!). And this isn’t something you have to spend years studying to get a handle on. Glasse’s historic cookbook is free on Google Books and contains hundreds of period recipes. Plus, it adds depth to get little things like this right, and it’s fun to have you characters eat Maids of Honor rather than just lemon cheesecakes (and it’s good to know that period “cheesecake” is pretty much a modern cheese Danish too).

Peerage Law in England by Sir Francis Beaufort Palmer (1907; free on Google Books)

This is a basic guide to how peerages are inherited, disputed, and granted, with many examples laid out so you can really understand it. This knowledge is ESSENTIAL if you want to deal with tricky inheritances. Yes, it’s a very dry book, but you really can’t hope to just muddle your way though these issues. Basic questions that this book answers come up on my historical writers’ loop all the time (the most common one is usually about a peer losing his title if it’s proven that he’s illegitimate, which simply can’t happen; all challenges have to be made BEFORE the title is granted, during the review of the claim).

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Shall We Dance? Regency Dance Series-Part 4 –How They Learned

Given all the ways dance mattered, socially and personally, during the Regency, it’s obvious that acquiring the skills and training to dance well (along with the proper etiquette) was supremely important. Skills on the dance floor would not entirely make or break a young person’s future, but they certainly helped.

Young ladies and gentlemen of wealthy families would usually receive private tutoring from a professional Dance Master. These men would be hired by multiple families and would travel from house to house to teach the latest dances as well as proper steps, comportment, posture, and behavior.

I’m certain there was snobbery over just which dance master your household had hired! One who was French and had references from higher ranked families, or one who was well-known among the ton and had published extensively, would certainly be preferred over a relatively unknown candidate.

How their pupils felt about them probably varied not only by how well they taught, but also by their age, personality and personal appearance, and the ages of the young people they taught. I can imagine young ladies developing a crush on their dance instructor if he was a bit charming, but I also imagine the young girl you can see in the back of the Cruikshank cartoon below thinking very un-ladylike thoughts about hers while forced to stand in the “hip-turner” box (also known as turn-out boards, or the torture box).

It was more properly called a tourne hanche, which betrays its French origins. Its purpose was to train the feet to turn outward at a wide angle, a ballet-like position you can see the others in this scene all maintain. The small, easily portable violin played by the dancing master is not an exaggeration by the cartoonist –it is called a pochette, or “pocket violin.”

The less wealthy could take classes at a dance academy (in a large enough town), just as one might do today. Dance Masters strove for prominence through publishing as well as through the success of their competing establishments. Given a basic understanding of the main forms of dances, one could purchase the latest books, which usually included the instructions for performing each dance. Publications such as “Thompson’s 24 Country Dances for the Year 1802” came out every year with new dances. The selection would vary depending on who issued the publication. The most popular dances might be carried over from year-to-year for a very long time, while some new ones might be introduced to be danced to old familiar tunes.

The most prominent dance masters competed with each other, trying to out-do each other with their offerings and credentials. In the 1820’s, established master Thomas Wilson and relative newcomer George Chivers engaged in an infamous rivalry. A typical advertisement from The Morning Post (13th November, 1818) reads:

Waltzing, Ecossoises, Quadrilles, Spanish Dancing, Minuets, La Grand Polonaise, Gavottes, Country Dances, Swedish Dancing &c — Mr CHIVERS, late of the King’s Theatre Italian Opera House, gives PUBLIC or PRIVATE LESSONS and PRACTICE in the EVENING, from Eight till Ten, or Nine till Eleven, or any hour of the day, MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, and FRIDAYS. Mrs Chivers superintends the ladies in a separate apartment. Families attended. Professors taught any department, and the greatest secrecy observed. Cards had at Mr Chivers’ Academy and Assembly Rooms, No 7 Pickett-Place, Temple bar; where may be had A Companion to the French and English Dancing, also the Swedish Dances (which Mr C. has introduced into this country; its simplicity and elegance surpasses all others, and is well adapted to parties having a majority of either sex.) The Rooms may be had occasionally, which have accommodation for 200 persons.

Chivers’s establishment shared space with a Fencing Master, also a fairly typical arrangement, but one that pressed limitations on scheduling classes. I fancy a resemblance between Cruikshank’s dance master in many of his later cartoons and Chivers’s portrait from one of his own publications, although I’ve found no reference that this was intentional.

Trained older siblings could be pressed into duty to teach the younger family members when circumstances demanded economy. Dance would be among the subjects taught at finishing schools for young ladies and academies for young gentlemen. This lovely Hugh Thompson illustration is from a story (“Quality Street”) about sisters who start such a school.  

Nor should we discount the role of observation, as anyone attending an assembly or ball could watch others to study the figures (sets of steps) of any dance one didn’t know. English country dances dominated during the early Regency years. They are fairly easy, once you have learned a “vocabulary” of the various figures, which appear over and over again in different combinations for each dance. So learning the order in which they are done for a particular dance would not be too hard.

Becoming proficient at the steps, however, could be more problematic. Regency dancing is energetic, the steps precise. The “walking” steps that many modern country dancers use were not the thing at all in period.

Practicing in front of the mirror

Dance footwork in the Regency era, even for country dances, was closer to ballet. Jane Austen wrote of Fanny in Mansfield Park, “Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.” Posture, deportment, and above all, elegance, were required.

Do you wonder if you would forget how to do one of the dances at a ball? You would not be alone. Many dancers needed a way to “crib”! How about carrying a fan with the latest dances printed on it? Or a discrete set of cards with the instructions, strung on a ribbon around your wrist or tucked into your reticule? Here are pictures of some of these period “memory aides” for dancing (helpfully offered for sale by the dance masters)!

1799 fan “Nelson & Victory”, printed with dances and short notes on the figures of each.
1791 fan printed with dances AND music!

The dances on this fan are:
• Captain Mc Lean – Whim of the Moment – Duke of Clarences Fancy – Dreary Dun
• Paynes Jigg – Miss Dukes Fancy – The Fife Hunt – The Birth day – Dibdins Fancy – Garthland
• Sir Alexander Dons – Ballata Waltz – Jem of Aberdeen Waltz – The Harriot -The Highland Club

Example of printed instruction cards (1828?) in a leather case, from Candace Hern’s fabulous collection of Regency things. If you haven’t seen her website, I recommend a visit!

A similar set of cards in The Harvard Library’s Ward Theater Collection, designed to be threaded on ribbon and worn around the wrist, printed with dance instructions for the quadrille, 1815. Selling sets of such cards were yet another way the enterprising dance masters tried to earn their bread.

Speaking of dance cards, what about those little ones with a pencil with which you could write in your partners names? Did they have those in the Regency era?

In this 1820’s image of Quadrille dancers, one of the “waiting” women (at left) is clearly looking at her dance card. Is it to see what other dances are planned and to whom she has promised them? (She’s with her current partner -how rude that would be!)

The term “dance card” in English with the latter meaning is dated 1892 by the Oxford English Dictionary –well past the Regency and even Victorian eras. It’s a beloved tradition with authors and I may have even had this wrong in some of my early books, but the answer is: NO. Prompt cards to tell the dances, yes, but not to write in the names of partners, not until much later in the 19th century. For one thing, tiny pencils were not yet being made! And pens required an inkwell. But here’s an example of one from the 1880’s, and a fun collection of such cards, dating 1913-1940’s, if you’re interested!!…/collecti…/p16274coll9/search

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Dance history is one of my great loves! If you have questions, I will be happy to try to answer them in the comments. Parts 1-3 of this series, if you missed them, can be found posted in previous weeks during July.

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A Regency Trip to the Met

When I was in New York City for the Romance Writers of America annual conference, one of the highlights was a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a group of friends, fellow members of the Beau Monde and Regency writers all. We spent the whole day in the museum.

First priority was a special exhibit on The Art of London Firearms, featuring firearms collected by The Prince Regent, later George IV.

This 1789 portrait by Sir William Beechey opened the exhibit. And, according to the Met, the Prince Regent was an excellent shot and an avid collector of firearms.

Here is a set of the Prince’s dueling pistols and their description:

A nice surprise at this exhibit was this 1815 gentleman’s navy wool tailcoat.

Next we wound up in a musical instruments section of the museum and among other beautiful instruments, we saw this early Italian pianoforte (1740) by the inventor of the pianoforte, Bartolomeo Cristofori.

On to the painting exhibits, there were surprisingly few items of British art, but there were these two treasures:

Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds, ca 1825 by John Constable
Whalers, ca 1845
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Turner is one of my favorite British artists, so that was a real treat.

After a lovely, relaxing lunch in the fine dining room of the museum, we went in search of the room from Lansdowne House in London that Victoria Hinshaw said was acquired by the Met and on display. What a treat, we thought, to be able to see something she’d just talked about in her presentation on London mansions for the Beau Monde conference the day before. We walked through room after room of mostly French stuff until finally asking one of the museum guards. Turns out it was removed for renovation! Here, though, is what we might have seen, courtesy of Laurie Benson, my fellow Harlequin Historical author.

That was it!!! After a visit to the gift shop we were off to dinner!

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Shall We Dance? Part 3 -The Waltz

Why does the WALTZ (or French “Valse”) fascinate us? I’m sure it’s partly because it was so scandalous during the Regency, and partly because we love the potential for romance when our heroes and heroines share the intimate dance. This is a long post!! Bear with me –I couldn’t choose what to leave out.

The waltz existed as a form of cotillion and of English country dances long before the scandalous single couple version of it was introduced to England during the Regency. It is those types of waltzing that Jane Austen references in her writings. Here are links to two examples of country dance waltzes, which utilize the familiar ¾ time rhythm:

The Northdown Waltz 1806

The Duke of Kent Waltz 1801:

The waltz traces back to German peasant dances as old as the 16th century. Its history is similar to that of other dance types: what shocked the aristocracy and at first seemed beneath them eventually was adopted by them, because, well, why should only the peasants have fun? The turning, close-held waltz took hold in the higher regions of society by the 18th century in Bavaria and Vienna, and spread to France, where post-revolutionary society embraced it.

Why was the waltz so scandalous? The illustration at top, while exaggerated, gives you an idea, but this lovely video clip from the BBC explains most of it quite well. Besides the intimacy and close hold was the simple fact that the dancers were turning for much of the time, which could lead to ladies becoming dizzy and quite shockingly out of control of themselves!

In 1804 a German visiting Paris wrote, “This love for the waltz and this adoption of the German dance is quite new and has become one of the vulgar fashions since the war…” [the French Revolution]. The “new” form of waltz trickled into England slowly, scandalizing most of English society when they first saw it. The German ex-pats who made up the soldiers of the King’s German Legion are credited with introducing the waltz to residents of Sussex in 1804, but it was slow to catch hold in England, where moral codes were strict (well, stricter).

Early caricature of French “Incroyables and Merveilleuses” waltzing

In 1814, neither the waltz nor the quadrille were yet permitted to be danced in Almack’s. Some theorists say attendees at the Congress of Vienna (Sept 1814) first saw the dance there and brought it back to England. But Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador assigned to England starting in 1812, had been in Berlin prior to that assignment, so it makes sense that she learned the dance while there. She was the first foreign-born patroness of the mighty Almack’s social club and is said to have introduced the waltz there in 1815.

Dance Master Thomas Wilson’s book “A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing” came out in 1816. His famous illustration of the “nine positions of the waltz” is below (you can see the numbers underneath each one if you look closely). By then, the dance had become prevalent enough to be ridiculed by the cartoonists of the day, and popular with the young who always want the “new” thing.

Thomas Wilson’s “Nine Positions” of the Waltz

The royal courts, generally foremost in setting fashions in many areas, consistently lagged in the area of dance. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. A few days later an editorial in The Times complained: “We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females….”

The Regency form of waltz was closely related to other dances: the German Landler, and the French Allemande, and the other dances that drew on these forms. At her Capering and Kickery website ( dance historian and teach Susan de Guardiola writes: “The early waltz looked quite different than the modern form. Dancers moved on their toes in a different pattern than what is seen in today’s competitive ballroom dancing, and adopted a wide range of “attitudes” of the arms…. Nor were waltzes choreographed, though Wilson suggested dancing different waltzes in sequence [slow followed by lively and back to slow again]. Entire ballrooms of dancers did not perform identical moves.” [Gail’s note: The name sometimes used for Regency waltz is the “pirouette waltz”.]

This video of five dances performed at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton is long, but at about 5:40 the dancers perform “The Allemande a Deux” (1780) which is a French modification of a German Landler.

If you compare it to the video of the single couple performing the Regency waltz (see next link), I think you will see some of the similarities, and you will also get a sense of how Regency waltzers did not all do the same figures at the same time. Regency Waltz/Valse 1826: (Video from the French National Historic Dance Championships –you have to love a country that holds such a thing!!)

If you are interested to know more, I found a fun video that compares the Regency style “pirouette” waltz to the later versions, here:

Do you think our modern version of the waltz has lost some of the “spice” of this earlier style? Or are you glad that our version is a lot easier to dance?

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Concerning Cosmetics

With almost everyone I know preparing for the annual Romance Writers of America conference, my Twitter is full of chatter about clothing, shoes, and makeup. So I thought I’d share a little about Georgian cosmetics (and yes, even when they supposedly went for the “natural look” in the Regency, they were using various concoctions to enhance what nature gave them).


From The Art of Beauty: “If ever paint were to be proscribed, I should plead for an exemption in favour of rouge.”

One of my favorite books for this kind of thing is The Lady’s Stratagem by Frances Grimble. She put together information about hygiene, cosmetics, fashion, laundry, and pastimes from six French ladies magazines from the 1820s. I know I’ve heard a lot over the years that women of the Regency didn’t paint themselves the way the ladies of the 18th century did, but I’m not convinced that’s true. I think it more likely they just opted for a more subtle application. The huge number of recipes for cosmetics in the period magazines convinces me that this is true. Ladies weren’t just pinching their cheeks for color, they were painting it on.

True Vegetable Rouge, or Rose in a Cup: Take the kind of red lac extracted from the safflower, which is sold cheaply under the name “rose in a cup.” Dry, it is a greenish-bronze. Dissolve it in a glass of water, and pour it on talcum power of on a piece of fine woolen. In this state it returns to a beautiful rose-colour. You may apply it to your cheeks without withering them, and if you have been careful in preparing the hue, the rouge will not be detected.

Portuguese Rouge: Of Portuguese dishes containing rouge for the face, there are two sorts. One of these is made in Portugal, and is rather scarce; the paint contained in the Portuguese dishes being of a fine pale pink hue, and very beautiful in its application to the face. The other sort is made in London, and is of a dirty, muddy red colour; it passes very well, however, with those who never saw the genuine Portuguese dishes, or who wish to be cheaply beautified.

Spanish Wool: Of this also there are several sorts; but that which is made here in London, by some of the Jews is by far the best. That which comes from Spain is of a very dark red colour, whereas the former gives a bright pale red.

Spanish Papers: They differ in othing from the above [Spanish Wool]; but the red colour, which in the tinges the wool, is here laid on paper; chiefly for the convenience of carrying in a pocket-book.

Chinese Boxes of Colours: These boxes, which are beautifully painted and japanned, come from China. They contain each two dozen of papers, and in each paper are three smaller ones, viz., a small black paper for the eyebrows, a paper of the same size of a fine green colour, but which, when just arrived and fresh, makes a very fine red for the face; and lastly a paper containing about half an ounce of white powder (prepared from real pearl) for giving an alabaster colour to some parts of the face and neck.

A further quote concerning the safety of these concoctions: “As to the carmine, the French Red, the genuine Portuguese dishes, the Chinese wool … they are all preparations of cochineal…and the least harm need not be dreaded from its use.”

Eyelashes & Brows

If you look at period Georgian portraits, you don’t see a lot of emphasis on the eyes. Not like today. But there were certainly recipes out there for cosmetics to darken the lashes and brows. The following are from one of the books quoted in The Lady’s Stratagem: To blacken the Eyelashes and Eyebrows. Rub them often with elder-berries. For the same purpose, some make use of burnt cork, or clove burned at the candle. Others employ black frankincense, resin, and mastic; this black it is said, will not come off with perspiration.

Wash for blackening the Eyebrows:  First wash with a decoction of [oak] galls. Then rub them with a brush dipped in a solution of green vitriol, and let them dry.

Black for the Eyebrows:  Take an ounce of pitch, a like quantity of resin and of frankincense, and half an ounce of mastic. Throw them upon live charcoal, over which lay a plate to receive the smoke. A black shoot will adhere to the plate; with this shoot rub the eyelashes and eyebrows very delicately. This operation, if now and then repeated, will keep them perfectly black.

Kohl: Kohl, of course, is ancient. With all the trade the English had with India, there’s no reason to assume that Kohl wouldn’t have been readily available. The OED clearly shows the word was known, though I see it in foreign contexts rather than mentioned as a cosmetic in use among the English.

1799 W. G. Browne Trav. Afr. xxi. 318 If any thing be applied in these is generally kôhhel (calx of tin mixed with sheep’s fat).

1817 T. Moore Lalla Rookh 11, Others mix the Kohol’s jetty die, To give that long, dark languish to the eye.

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Shall We Dance? -Part 2

Dancing the Quadrille at Almack’s

Today I’ll continue the dance series I began on July 6, with some notes about the cotillion and the quadrille, dances which were common in the early Regency and the late Regency, respectively. While there is a great deal of overlap in some characteristics of these dances, their prevalence in the ballroom does not seem to have overlapped much at all.


Jane Austen wrote to her niece Fanny in 1816, “Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day.” Jane was past her dancing prime by then and was referring to music sheets, but as so often happens even today, was not a fan of the “new” style of dancing that the younger people loved.

The Cotillion was a French country dance for four couples popular in England in the late 18th century. While it often began with a circling figure and included later small circles, most of the dance was performed in a square, with various “changes”, or figures that moved in and out of that main formation and allowed for changes of partners.

Because the cotillions came from France, many kept their French names. The only dance Jane Austen ever mentions by name, “La Boulangerie” is a cotillion. Here is a video so you can see what it was she so enjoyed.

There were many various types of cotillion dances: “waltz cotillions” and “allemande cotillions” for instance. They included some figures also commonly found in English country dances and reels, and later the quadrilles, so there is a shared basis between the types of dances.

For instance, four of the basic quadrille segments are also found in cotillions: Les Pantalons, L’Eté, La Poule and La Pastorale. Many steps are also shared, but in style and music the dances are quite different. Quadrille enthusiasts denounced the cotillion as old-fashioned and “belonging with the ancient minuet.”

The word “cotillion” changed during the 19th century from referring to the specific type of dances to the more modern usage, referring instead to a dance event, even specifically to a dance event for debutantes. Just know that during the Regency era, that was not what it meant!


Captain Gronow wrote in his memoirs about the first appearance of the Quadrille at London’s elite social venue, Almack’s: “In 1814, the dances at Almack’s were Scotch reels and the old English country-dance; and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the then celebrated Neil Gow. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced from Paris the favourite quadrille, which has so long remained popular.”

The quadrille became a craze, so popular that it overtook all other forms of dance being done at this time, except for the waltz (topic for Part 3 of this series), introduced at about the same time. Cartoonists of the day, such as Gilroy and Cruikshank, could not be expected to resist ridiculing such a vibrant fad, especially as it required some skill and practice. “Accidents while dancing the Quadrille” was a popular caption.

Like the cotillion, this was a dance form with four couples arranged in a square. Unlike the cotillion, it consisted of five sections or movements, each with its own complicated sequence of figures and music, with differing time signatures. Also unlike the cotillion, in the quadrille, the couples took turns performing the steps, with the head couples leading and the side couples resting until their turn. (Given the exertion required and the length of the dances, this was no doubt a blessing!)

This video gives a good sense of the dance –watch as much as you wish, just know it lasts 11 minutes and 19 seconds! Paine’s First Set of Quadrilles (1815)

Here is a video that shows “The Mozart Cotillion” being danced at Chawton House (yes, I thought you’d like that!) 🙂

I hope you are enjoying these dance notes and finding them helpful to visualize Regency dancing for your reading or writing pleasure! Part 3 on the Waltz will be posted on July 25.

Posted in Jane Austen, Music, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Shall We Dance? Pt 1 of 4

Do any of you participate in historical dancing? It is tons of fun. Regency dances fall into just a few categories: English Country Dances, Reels, Cotillions, Waltzes, and Quadrilles. Since I recently pulled together some dance information to prep people for an online ball, I thought I would share it here as well –especially since I have zero time right now! 🙂

1817 Clifton Assembly Room, by Rolinda Sharples (Brit Museum)

Today I’ll cover two staples of the early Regency ballrooms, English Country Dancing and Reels. In Part 2 I’ll do Cotillions (an even earlier dance form) and Quadrilles (the “latest craze” that came in and stayed). Since I have a lot to say about the Waltz (or Valse), that one will get a post all to itself as Part 3, and Part 4 will cover “How They Learned” and ways to remember what they learned!! Please check back to learn when we will schedule these. I promise the parts will run more often than once a month.

English Country dances have been around since the 1600’s, but by the Regency, the most popular form was a “longways set” –meaning done in a long line of couples, whereas early forms were often circles, or “closed” sets of two-to-four couples. The longways dances were also usually “progressive”, which meant the couples moved up or down the line to dance with new people after each repeat of the figures. Some dances involved only a two-couple pattern, but some involved three! At times there might be a couple (or two) at one end of the line or the other, waiting to re-enter the dance. In modern times, we now start all the “number ones” in the line at the same time, but in the Regency, it was usual to begin with only the first “first couple”, a special honor for them, and everyone else had to wait until the action and repeats of the dance reached them.

Here is a video of “The Leamington Dance” (1811) being danced slowly with a caller by modern EC dancers. If this is all new to you, it should give you a good sense of how a simple country dance works.

Here are links to a couple of nice videos of Regency English Country Dancing at costumed events: (Wakefield Hunt 1779 and The Duke of Kent’s Waltz 1801, fairly slow so you can see what’s going on); (Juliana 1810, Wilson)

Reels are a very lively form of dance where the participants weave in and out between each other. Popular in Scotland, they also were common in English Regency ballrooms, and could involve various numbers of dancers. (A 6-hand reel would involve three couples.) There is overlap between reels and ECD, since often country dances will include a section (called a “hay”) where the figures are essentially a reel, and sometimes an ECD will have “Reel” in the name (as they also sometimes had “Waltz”) just to confuse matters. 🙂

This video gives an idea of how a reel works, so you can spot one when you see one! BTW, that website is a great source of country dance information, if you want to know more. Much of it applies to both English and Scottish, although there are some differences. I will give some more good resources at the end of this blog series.

Do you have favorite dance scenes you loved in books or movies? What made them romantic and what did you like most about them?

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About All That Lace (and some pretty dresses)

1820 embroidered net overdress

Before we get into the lace-talk, I just wanted to alert those of you on Facebook to a new Regency group (I know, another one!) that has formed. Last week I was featured at Regency Kisses: Lady Catherine’s Salon (no, not THAT Lady Catherine!) and we went on a virtual/pictorial tour of England based on the settings in my books. Fun!

It’s an open group, although you have to join. We feature a different author each week, with giveaways and other entertaining activities. If you like this sort of thing, please consider checking us out. The “home” group of eight authors write “sweet with sizzle” Regencies, so if you like all heat levels, you might find some new-to-you authors to check out. Type the group name into the FB search bar and it should come up. Or, huh, I suppose I could be helpful and give you a link, eh? LOL.

Please don’t go right now! We still want you to keep on being loyal readers of the Risky Regencies blog. We keep considering changing to some other format, maybe even a FB group, but many of you aren’t on FB and don’t want to be, either, and we respect that….

So, my most recent research rabbit hole has been lace. This time it wasn’t for a story, though. I thought I was going to need a new Regency gown. The Beau Monde Chapter of the Romance Writers of America is 25 years old this year, and we are celebrating at our conference in NYC in July! A gown for the Soiree is optional, but I’ve always worn a gown when attending such events, and since I am a founding member, this seems an unlikely year to suddenly stop doing so.

Through a friend, I recently acquired an entire bolt of beautiful lace, and another large chunk of a different lace, also beautiful.

How pretty either one would be incorporated into a new Regency dress! I knew that the machines to produce English net dated to even before our period, and such net is often the base for lace designs, but when did they begin to be able to mimic hand-made lace with repeating patterns over a large area? I scoured through Ackermann’s prints, looking for dresses with full lace overskirts, and I quite naturally looked up the history of lace.

The introduction of machine-made net is quite well reflected in the styles of Regency gowns you can see in the fashion prints: net overdresses, sheer sleeves, etc. The machines, once refined, could even create patterns of intersecting strands and “spots” or stripes.

Ah, but actual patterned lace? That is a different thing altogether.

In our period, patterned lace was still made by hand, either using bobbins or various kinds of needlework techniques such as appliqué. You can find plenty of lace embellishment on gowns, but it is generally quite narrow, in bands or ruffled edges, because of the way it was made. Both needle and bobbin lace seem to have developed in Italy and Flanders during the early 16th century. Prior to that time, open-work decorative trims were made by cutting away and embroidering existing fabric. The new techniques created the openwork from threads, which could be linen, silk, gold or silver-bound silk, or much later, cotton.

Black spotted net overdress

The first machine lace was introduced in 1769, but the mesh raveled when cut. John Heathcoat developed a machine by 1809 that solved that issue and could produce “wide bobbin net”. But it wasn’t until 1837 that Heathcoat’s existing machine technology was successfully adapted (by Samuel Ferguson) to be able to produce a repeating pattern, as the jacquard machine looms could do. That is how the Victorians were able to have lovely lace curtains for their windows, and also makes sense of why they would, since it was a new and fashionable thing to have!

I could make a very pretty Regency gown using one of those laces I was given, but it wouldn’t be accurate, and that would always bother me. How would you feel? Even if I pretended the lace was all hand-done, I wouldn’t be comfortable, thinking of the huge amount of hours of poorly-paid labor that would have had to go into the making of it, if it were real. (I don’t think I know how to think like a super-wealthy aristocrat. Wouldn’t the lace-maker be grateful for my custom order and all that work?). Have any great alternative ideas for me to use all that lace?

In the meantime, it looks like I may be able to squeeze into my old dress, after all, with a few alterations. Here is a picture of me wearing it with Risky Elena, at the Beau Monde soiree back in 2003. (I do pretend the embroidery was hand-done. There’s a lot less of it!) I’ve worn it more recently than this photo, but not in years. I may not be able to move very much, LOL! Losing 25lbs would solve the problem, but I know that’s not going to happen!  J

Needlelace: and

Bobbin lace: and

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Pockets in the Regency and Beyond

That’s right. You heard me: POCKETS.

There have been so many bad takes out there on the history of pockets in the past couple of years. What they have in common is that they’re written by people who aren’t costume historians. Because I am here to tell you, pockets were a thing for women in our era of focus. They didn’t magically disappear and turn into to “reticules” as many people maintain (this was gospel once upon a time, but has been thoroughly disbunked).

When you look at period gowns (especially morning gowns and day dresses), you see “pocket holes” on a lot of them. These are invisible in most of the pictures you see on museum sites though, and their existence is often not noted in the description. But if you look at books like COSTUME IN DETAIL by Nancy Bradfield, you’ll quickly see that there are pocket holes all over the place.

Gown, 1806-1808. Note the “pocket hole” under the right arm.
Gown, 1815-1822. Note the “one slit” (aka a pocket hole) on the right side.
Gown, 1825-1828. Note the slit on the right that is specifically refrenced as an opening to reach the pocket.
Fuller undergarments c. 1825-1835. Pockets are still absolutely worn.
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“Drinking stars”? Champagne in the Regency

Champagne. Today we associate it with special occasions and luxury. Its bright, sparkling quality seems a natural fit with festivity. But what was its status during the Regency? “They didn’t have champagne during the Regency.” “They had champagne but it wasn’t bubbly.” “They couldn’t have it back then because the bottles exploded.” I hear comments like these frequently.

Research rabbit holes –don’t we love them? I had researched enough to be certain of the scene in my December release, Lord of Misrule, where the characters are drinking champagne at a fancy New Year’s ball. I avoided the full-on rabbit hole then (deadline pressure can stop that). But I’m not under as much pressure right now. Pursuing a different (but related) topic for one of the spin-off stories spawned by LOM has led me back to the rabbit hole of the history of champagne. Let’s find out the truth or error behind all those comments, shall we?

Some of the confusion seems to come from failing to distinguish between wines made in the Champagne region of France and the bubbly wine we call champagne, which did originate and take its name from there. Bubbly or “sparkling” wine has been around since wine started to be made. The Romans had sparkling wines. But bubbly wine wasn’t considered a good thing, originally. Bubbles in the wine were a flaw, along with the leftover sediment and cloudiness that usually accompanied the bubbles. Bubbles came from interrupted fermentation, a process that wasn’t well understood. Dom Pérignon, a 17th century Benedictine monk in the Champagne area, is sometimes credited as “the inventor” of champagne. But the truth is that no one “invented” it. It arises from a natural chemical process.

Legend has it that Dom Pérignon exclaimed, “Come, for I am drinking stars!” when he first tasted sparkling champagne wine. That hints at an enthusiasm history contradicts, for the monk actually dedicated much of his life to looking for ways to prevent the tendency of Champagne wines to fizz. In the process of his search, he did invent several techniques and advanced the understanding of how fermentation happens. But I suspect this “legend” may be a creation of the dedicated PR efforts of champagne makers expanding their markets during the later 19th century.

Champagne (the area) is in northeastern France, and the coldness of their winters often stopped the fermentation process until spring, when warmer temperatures triggered the process to start again. Wines produced in more southerly parts of France did not have this problem, and the Champagne wine makers, including the Benedictines, wanted to be able to compete. Besides this “inferior” quality that bedeviled their wines, French bottles were not very sturdy and the bottled bubbly wines did often explode, sometimes setting off a chain-reaction that could wipe out large portions of their stock.

The English actually can claim more of the credit for changing attitudes about sparkling Champagne wines, for they began to appreciate the bubbly stuff before anyone else. The English began to “make” champagne by adding extra sugar into the French wines when they were bottled, ensuring that additional fermentation would occur and create the “fizz”. From the 17th century English glass-makers used coal fires instead of wood fires as the French did, resulting in sturdier glass. By the 18th century they also introduced the process of using molds, producing a uniform vessel to contain the wines shipped over from France in barrels, and the use of cork stoppers, a practice lost since the Romans. Champagne wines shipped during the cold months and bottled by merchants in England would start fermenting again inside the English bottles, but due to the superior methods, the bottles would not explode.

The Marquis de St-Evremond is credited with making Champagne wines fashionable in London in the 1660s, a healthy development for the French wine exporters. France’s interest lagged behind until early in the next century, when Philip, Duke of Orléans, popularized sparkling champagne during his regency from 1715 to 1723. Between that time and the start of the French Revolution, many still-recognized “champagne  houses” were founded, specifically as makers of sparkling champagne. (Ruinart (1729), Moët & Chandon (1750), Louis Roederer (1776), Veuve Clicquot (1772), Abele (1757), and Taittinger (1734), among others). Many did not grow grapes at all, but purchased grapes or wine already pressed from the vineyards to make into champagne.

Still, in this period it is estimated that only about 10% of the wine produced in the Champagne region was turned into sparkling champagne. The rest was regular “still” wine, usually of a pale pinkish color. Sparkling champagne went from being the bane of wine-makers trade to a luxury item in high demand in courts and the highest society of Europe. The spread of its popularity was furthered by the French Revolution, which sent many of the French nobility fleeing to other parts of Europe, bringing their taste for champagne with them.

The Napoleonic wars caused blockades in many European ports, but enterprising champagne agents found ways to smuggle their product out of France all the same. During those war years, champagne was harder to procure and even dearer in price than before, but demand was high and people still obtained it. Napoleon’s march on Moscow helped to spread the popularity of champagne to Russia, for the wine merchants’ agents went to Russia along with and sometimes ahead of the armies.

Madame Clicquot with her great-granddaughter

A French woman was responsible not only for growing the popularity of champagne during our period but also for vastly improving the quality of the product. Married to businessman Franҫois Clicquot when she was 21 years old, she became a widow at age 27 when he died in 1805. Known then as “Veuve Clicquot” (the widow Clicquot), she took over the management of his businesses and focused on the production of champagne.

Her most famous improvement was the invention of “riddling”, a process which removed the cloudy sediment and dead yeasts which could mar the appearance and taste of champagnes up to that time. The problem of removing it without releasing all of the “fizz” had never been solved. Various dates (1812, 1815, 1816) are given for this accomplishment, as she tried to keep the process a secret after she developed it. However, evidence suggests it was in use by 1811-12 when her company produced their “Cuvée de la Comète,” the first ever “vintage champagne”, honoring that year’s famous comet. In 1812 or 14? Veuve Clicquot’s lead sales agent smuggled a quantity of the Comet Champagne into Russia, even though French wines had been banned by Tsar Alexander I after Napoleon’s invasion. The wine’s quality was so outstanding that even the Tsar became an eager customer.

Sparkling wine in riddling racks

I’ve left out a lot of information, of course. But I can see where the various comments I quoted at the beginning of this post each have some grain of truth buried in them. “They didn’t have champagne during the Regency.” (During the war years it was much harder to obtain, and it was not exactly the same wine that we drink today –sweeter, for one thing, from the added sugar.) “They had champagne but it wasn’t bubbly.” (Most of the wines produced in Champagne continued to be “still” wines. Also, the champagnes they did have might have fewer bubbles if they were decanted to try to remove the sediments.) “They couldn’t have it back then because the bottles exploded.” (Until the French caught up to the English methods of creating glass bottles and sealing them, this was definitely a problem in France (and probably some of the time everywhere!)

The science behind making champagne made great strides just after the Regency period, and with it came more improvements and refinements in taste. The system of identifying champagnes as “extra-dry” or the driest “brut” also date to the middle of the 19th century and later. But wealthy Regency people were definitely drinking champagne, we can have no doubt. Do you ever drink champagne? Do you have a favorite brand? Do you remember having champagne to celebrate a special occasion?

Recommended sites for more in depth reading:

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